Ex-militia head: Iran's diplomats dead

Iran claimed their representatives were held by Israel in exchange for Ron Arad.

ron arad billboard 298 (photo credit: Arieh O'sullivan)
ron arad billboard 298
(photo credit: Arieh O'sullivan)
Four Iranian diplomats who went missing in 1982 and were named in relation to a possible deal involving missing IAF navigator Ron Arad were killed by militiamen in Lebanon, a Christian politician and former militia commander revealed on Thursday. Iran had claimed that the four had been held in Israel as possible bargaining chips for a future deal involving information about Arad. Samir Geagea, former head of the now-disbanded Lebanese Forces - the country's most powerful Christian militia during the 1975-90 civil war - told the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir that the Iranians "were killed in Lebanon by members of the Lebanese Forces." The Iranian Embassy in Beirut has said the four - charge d'affaires Mohsen Musavi, fellow diplomat Ahmad Motovasselian, photographer Kazem Akhavan and embassy driver Mohammad Taqi Rastgar Moghaddam - were snatched at a Lebanese Forces checkpoint north of Beirut on July 4, 1982, on their way back from the northern city of Tripoli. As-Safir published only a few quotes from Geagea on Thursday, noting the full interview would be published Saturday. His Christian militia was backed by Israel during the Lebanese civil war, and during the Israeli invasion in 1982, when Israeli troops took over large tracts of Lebanon as part of a military blitz to expel Palestinian guerrillas. On a visit to Lebanon in 2004, Iran's then-foreign minister Kamal Kharrazi said the missing Iranians were alive in Israel. "They were transferred from an area north of Beirut, which was under Israeli control then, in a boat to Israel," Kharrazi had told reporters. Israel has long denied holding them. Ariel Sharon, then Israel's defense minister who oversaw the 1982 invasion, accused another former Lebanese Forces leader, Elie Hobeika, of killing the Iranians. "We have nothing to do with this," Sharon said in 2003. "What do they want, for us to explain to them how Elie Hobeika killed them, whether he hung them or strangled them? It's an internal Lebanese affair," he said. Geagea, an anti-Syrian former warlord, now leads the Lebanese Forces party. He was arrested in April 1994 and his group was outlawed, after a church bombing killed 10 people. He was later acquitted in the bombing but sentenced to three life terms on several other murder counts, including the killing of pro-Syrian Prime Minister Rashid Karami. Geagea, 53, spent 11 years in jail before he was released in July, after Lebanon's Parliament approved a motion to pardon him. Several months ago, Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah's claimed Arad was dead. In the first such comments by the Hizbullah leader, Nasrallah told a Lebanese news station: "My deduction is two words: Dead and lost." An IDF official said in response, "Our working assumption is that he is alive. Unless someone is brought back to Israel dead and in a coffin, then the assumption is that he is alive." The defense establishment believed that Arad was first captured by Amal's Mustafa Dirani in 1986 when the navigator's plane went down in Lebanon. He was then handed over to Hizbullah about a year later. The latest reliable information that Israel received indicated that Arad had been transported to Iran where, it was believed, he has been held ever since. More information was supposed to be received in the second phase of the 2004 prisoner exchange deal to which Israel agreed when it gave Lebanon hundreds of prisoners in exchange for Col. Elhanan Tennenbaum and the bodies of the three soldiers who were taken by Hizbullah over three years earlier. The fate of the Iranian diplomats, whom Iran claimed that Israel possessed, was also meant to be revealed in the second phase of the prisoner exchange. There has been no progress reported on the deal since the first exchange in 2004.